CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The celebration was distasteful, but Maryland football coach Mike Locksley didn’t care.
After the Terps defeated No. 23 NC State, 16-12, in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Locksley had to endure the traditional mayonnaise dump. Some might view it as insane, but as a four-gallon bucket of mayonnaise mixed with Old Bay seasoning dropped on top of Locksley’s head, he was filled with joy because the bizarre and unappetizing celebration meant the Terps were on the winning side.
With the victory, Maryland secured its first eight-win season since 2010, won back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2003 and erased a 15-game losing streak to opponents ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25. But more importantly, the win signified the work Locksley has done to transform the program through his four years at the helm.
“Where we were when I took over the program in 2019 to where we are today, Ray Charles could see it,” Locksley said.
When Locksley took over the program in 2019, Maryland was still recovering from the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and a “culture where problems festered” under former coach DJ Durkin. Maryland grew accustomed to losing, and the Terps’ 3-9 record in Locksley’s first year at the helm didn’t do much to change that mindset.
Still, Locksley’s love for the program and belief in what it could become remained strong. After a five-game 2020 season that was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he saw his plan come to fruition in 2021 when the Terps went 7-6 with a dominant 54-10 win over Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. After beating the Wolfpack, Locksley is ready to shoot for the stars.
“The next step for us is to start competing for Big Ten championships,” he said. “There’s some people that will laugh at us, but if you take a Terp for granted, I promise we will make you pay.”
To get to the point Friday where Locksley praised the players and nearly every member of the coaching staff and athletic department, Maryland put together a masterclass performance on defense. The Terps held NC State to four field goals and 296 total yards while forcing two turnovers. The Wolfpack couldn’t get anything going on the ground, rushing for just 27 yards on 18 carries. Maryland’s defense on third down was perhaps the difference, as NC State finished 5-for-18. Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren credited the Terps for switching coverages throughout the afternoon.
“Those dudes played their butts off,” Locksley said. “We put them in some tough situations today with short fields and we oftentimes talk about holding [opponents] to field goals. Holding to field goals saved the day.”
In his second career start, NC State redshirt freshman quarterback Ben Finley struggled, completing 22 of 48 passes for 269 yards and two interceptions. With less than three minutes left, NC State still had one last chance to pull off a comeback win, but Finley’s first pass deep down the right sideline was intercepted by senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett. A 6-yard run by Antwain Littleton II on third down with 42 seconds left sealed the win, kicking off the celebration.
“It was surreal,” Bennett said. “I came back to finish with these guys. To have the opportunity to close out the game with that play is something I’ve been working on.”
Maryland senior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones said the victory was thanks to the defense. Redshirt senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was inconsistent, completing 19 of 37 passes for 221 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while the Terps were held to 76 rushing yards on 41 attempts. Backup quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. started the opening drive, which Locksley said was a coach’s decision.
Maryland could’ve had a larger lead, but it wasted a pair of scoring chances in the first half. On the opening drive, Edwards threw a short pass to Jones, who broke loose for a 45-yard gain to the Wolfpack 24. Redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby (24 carries for 65 yards) picked up 9 yards on third-and-3 to set up first-and-goal from the 8 but was stopped short of the goal line on three straight runs before Edwards was sacked by NC State’s Drake Thomas on fourth down.
Moments later, Finley’s pass was tipped and intercepted by linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay at NC State’s 18, setting up another golden opportunity. But Tagovailoa tried to force a throw to the back of the end zone that was picked off by Wolfpack safety Cyrus Fagan. The turnover led to a seven-play, 59-yard scoring drive that ended with a 38-yard field goal by kicker Christopher Dunn that gave NC State a 3-0 lead with 6:10 left in the quarter.
Although Maryland’s offense wasn’t perfect, the Terps made enough plays against the nation’s 20th-ranked defense. Maryland scored the game’s only touchdown in the second quarter on a 19-yard pass from Tagovailoa to freshman Octavian Smith Jr. in the corner of the end zone, which gave the Terps a 10-3 lead with 8:07 to go. Needing some breathing room facing third-and-3 at Maryland’s own 32 in the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa threw a 30-yard pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Corey Dyches (four catches for 45 yards) to keep the chains moving. Six plays later, kicker Chad Ryland hit his third field goal of the game, a 45-yarder that gave the Terps a 16-12 advantage with 5:36 remaining.
“We didn’t play our best,” Locksley said. “We left a lot of meat on the bone out there on offense, the execution wasn’t perfect, but we did enough to win.”
Jones, who caught four passes for 79 yards, had to apologize to reporters because he was celebrating so much that he was running late to his postgame news conference. He has been with the program since 2018 and remembers when players lacked belief in one another. When he embraced Tagovailoa as time expired and watched Locksley get covered in mayonnaise, he understood the importance of self belief and how far Maryland could go.
“As long as we believe that and work for [a Big Ten championship], it’s definitely an opportunity that we will have,” Jones said. " If we keep going in the direction that we’re going I think Locksley is right about what he said.”